British Columbia’s Economic Transition and Just Transition Proposals

A January report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives offers insight into the kinds of just transition policies that will be needed to support labour as carbon-intensive industries are phased out. Just Transition: Creating a Green Social Contract for BC’s Resource Workers is the result of seven focus groups composed of workers from the forestry, mining, and fossil fuel industries. They were asked about their first-hand experiences with transitioning out of industrial employment, and the changes they felt were necessary for workers and communities to thrive alongside effective environmental and climate policies. Participants stressed the importance of improving training and education programs, which were seen as neglecting transferable and upgraded skills in favour of narrow specialization that plugged current labour gaps but left workers vulnerable to wage suppression and unable to change industries without downgrading. Participants also highlighted personal, family and community strain associated with moving to find work or commuting long distances, pointing to the need for related socioeconomic support, counselling, and policies that keep workers closer to home. Local economy diversification and greener, and value-added industries were identified as a way to lower carbon and create more resilient communities, though workers’ concerns highlight that the loss of industrial wages would need to be managed.

The report recommends income security guarantees to maintain stability in resource communities, as well the embrace of alternative models such as worker ownership. Further, the new social contract needed to address the training and socioeconomic needs of transitioning communities should include a just transition fund drawn from resource revenues, harnessing pre-existing tools such as B.C.’s natural gas royalties and carbon tax. The new source of public funds could support investment in job-creating green infrastructure, public transit, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.

The B.C. business community is also recognizing the coming economic transition. Business in Vancouver magazine has launched a new series on the economic impacts of climate change in the province, with a first installment based on interviews with Tom Pedersen of the University of Victoria’s Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions and Deborah Harford of Simon Fraser University.  “Climate Change Looms as Major Threat to Key B.C. Industries” (Feb. 16) considers B.C.’s future in light of problems that have already arisen, including water shortages in the Okanagan, reduced water flow at hydroelectric dams, soil salinization, and ocean acidification impacting shellfish farmers and the salmon industry. The series will continue throughout 2015, engaging experts from diverse fields and industries.

Environmental Groups Stand with U.S. Refinery Workers on Strike for Safety

The United Steelworkers union represents workers at 65 oil refineries in the United States. On February 1, the union announced an unfair labour practice strike at 9 locations, with the remainder operating under a rolling 24-hour contract extension. In a media advisory, the head of the USW National Oil Bargaining Program states: “This work stoppage is about onerous overtime; unsafe staffing levels; dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; the daily occurrences of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions that threaten local communities without the industry doing much about it; the industry’s refusal to make opportunities for workers in the trade crafts; the flagrant contracting out that impacts health and safety on the job; and the erosion of our workplace, where qualified and experienced union workers are replaced by contractors when they leave or retire”. Indeed, the dangerous working conditions of the oil industry have been well documented by no less than the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. These safety and health issues have been at the heart of the dispute, and have resulted in widespread public support from environmental and community groups, as summarized in “Striking for Climate Justice” in Dissent Magazine (Feb. 21). The Sierra Club issued an almost immediate statement of support on Feb. 3, ready to do so because of an earlier agreement spelled out in A Common Position on the Future of Oil (September 2013). Public statements of support from other green groups: Oil Change International; Labor Network for Sustainability, and Communities for a Better Environment, a California-based group  which sums it up: “Environmental justice demands everyone’s right to a safe and healthy work environment and challenges the false choice that would force us to choose between our health and our jobs. Indeed, fighting for worker rights protects community health and safety”.

Green Jobs, Green Economies from a Social/Gender Justice Lens

A discussion paper released in February by the ILO and the Global Labour University provides a wide-ranging and well-documented global analysis of Green New Deal programs, green economies, and green jobs. Some excerpts: “…while advocates of the green economy promise the elimination of poverty, the green economy agenda is a new version of what has been described as finance-led accumulation and as such a continuation of the neoliberal project that has fuelled inequality during the past three decades”. Of green jobs, he observes, “statistical evidence suggests that many of the assumptions associated with green jobs are far too optimistic”. Referencing Austrian, EU, and South African studies, he states, “statistical evidence suggests that in terms of working conditions they (i.e. green jobs) are actually worse than average jobs…in sum, female workers are clearly disadvantaged when it comes to the distribution of the benefits from green growth”. Finally, “in sum, an alternative approach to a green transition towards a more sustainable economy and society must go beyond the goal of a thermal insulated capitalism and promote ecological, gender and social justice”. The author particularly discusses the importance of hours of work as a key factor in equality/inequality, and in ecological damage. Source: Green New Deal and the Question of Environmental and Social Justice.

Labour Market Impacts of a Circular Economy in the U.K.

A report released in late January 2015 by the Green Alliance and WRAP in the U.K. considers the regional and occupational patterns of employment in recycling, reuse and remanufacturing activities, with a forecast for the future. Employment and the Circular Economy: Job Creation in a More Resource Efficient Britain concludes that “if Britain continues to develop its resource efficiency, the country’s circular economy sector will create net jobs in regions where unemployment is higher, such as the North East and West Midlands, and among low to mid skilled occupations, where a higher rate of job losses are projected for the future”. The public report is based on a technical report, Opportunities to Tackle Britain’s Labour Market Challenges through Growth in the Circular Economy, which describes the U.K. labour market, explains the methodology and calculations, and forecasts job creation potential for low-skilled, skilled, and professional workers under three different scenarios. In the best case, by 2030 the sector could require an extra  205,000 jobs, reduce unemployment by around 54,000, and offset 11 per cent of future job losses in skilled employment.

Polluter Pays in New Rail Safety Legislation

Bill C-52, The Safe and Accountable Rail Act was announced by the federal Transport Minister on February 20, in the latest of several legislative and regulatory responses  to the tragedy of the Lac Megantic derailment and explosion in 2013. “Ottawa announces Rail Disaster Relief Fund” in the Globe and Mail (Feb. 20) summarizes the provisions, which include the requirement, for the first time, that railways must carry a minimum amount of liability insurance, ranging from $25-million up to $1-billion, depending on their volume of dangerous goods. Additionally, a fee of $1.65-a-tonne will be charged to the companies and pooled in a fund to cover the costs of damages that exceed their insurance. The Act also requires that rail companies implement policies and procedures to ensure workers the right to report fatigue without fear of reprisals. See the text of the Act.

Canada’s Federal Liberal Party takes a Flexible Position on Carbon Pricing

Federal leader Justin Trudeau chose Calgary’s Petroleum Club on February 6 as the venue to announce that, if elected in October 2015, a Liberal government would set national targets for reducing carbon emissions but allow provinces to design and manage the policies to meet them. The Liberal party website provides text of the speech as well as a video. The Pembina Institute reacted to the announcement, as did Clean Energy Canada, which also provides a comparison chart of the positions of three of the four federal parties. There is no shortage of recent policy reports on the issue of carbon pricing, for example: Carbon Pricing and Mind the Hissing from Sustainable Prosperity (case studies of revenue allocation in the carbon pricing systems of B.C., Alberta, and Quebec); How to Adopt a Winning Carbon Price: Top 10 Takeaways from the Architects of British Columbia’s Carbon Tax from Clean Energy Canada; Will Nova Scotia Implement a Carbon Tax? by Brendan Haley at the Progressive Economics Forum. Even the World Bank’s Partnership for Market Readiness has a policy “wish list” in its business-oriented new report, Preparing for Carbon Pricing: Case Studies from Company Experience: Royal Dutch Shell, Rio Tinto, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaigns in Canada

Global Divestment Days took place worldwide on February 13 and 14th, organized by 350.org through their Go Fossil Free campaign. In Canada, a divestment campaign led by the UBCC350, (a group of students, faculty, staff, and alumni) climaxed on February 10 with a a largely symbolic vote by UBC Faculty : see “UBC profs vote 62 per cent in Favour of Fossil Fuel Divestment” in the Vancouver Observer (Feb 10  ) and see the press release from UBC350. On February 12, the Financial Post reported that “University of Calgary will not Divest from Fossil Fuels”.

Also in February, the Sustainability and Education Policy Network housed at the University of Saskatchewan released The State of Fossil Fuel Divestment in Canadian Post-Secondary Institutions, which lists all 27 Canadian post-secondary institutions where divestment campaigns were underway as of October 2014, as well as the amount of money currently invested in fossil fuels. The report notes a “disconnect”: “While some campuses have positioned themselves as sustainability leaders, they are still heavily invested in fossil fuel companies”. Other related documents from the ongoing research are at the SEPN website.

A White Paper, Fossil Fuel Divestment: Reviewing Arguments, Policy Implications, and Opportunities was published by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) in January. It  concludes that fossil fuel divestment campaigns can be socially effective but are unable to have any real impact on reducing emissions or financing transition to sustainability without alternative investments that change the structure of the economy. PICS is maintaining a website for ongoing commentary on the issue, and indeed, the paper has been criticized in The Tyee and in the DeSmog Canada Blog for “missing the point” of the importance of divestment to revoke social license.

Fossil Fuel Subsidies Detrimental to Global Climate

A report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development was presented at the  U.N. Geneva Climate Change Conference, held from February 8-13. Fossil-Fuel Subsidies and Climate Change: Options for Policy-makers within their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions argues that removal of fossil fuel subsidies could lead to global GHG emissions reductions of between 6-13% by 2050. The CEO of IISD also stated: “The billions of dollars spent on these subsidies means less money is available for clean energy, health, education and infrastructure”. The report was financed by the Nordic Prime Ministers’ Green Growth Initiative.  The IISD also provides a comprehensive summary of the Geneva meetings.

Local Energy Distribution Vancouver, Guelph, Connecticut

A February report describes the development of the low-carbon Neighbourhood Energy Utility (NEU), which uses a hybrid system of sewage heat recovery (SHR) backed up by natural gas boilers to deliver thermal energy to 24 buildings in the False Creek area of Vancouver. The opportunity arose from the redevelopment of former industrial land into a mixed-use community- a highly capital-intensive project which generated approximately 50 FTE jobs over 3 years of construction, and has resulted in 3.5 highly-skilled engineering jobs in the operational phase. Although the job creation impact is small because of the small scale of the project, author Marc Lee maintains that it is important as an example of public sector innovation which challenges the paradigm of centralized energy distribution, and which could be replicated by other cities. See Innovative Approaches to Low Carbon Urban Systems: A Case Study of Vancouver’s Neighbourhood Energy Utility, published by Economics for Equity and Environment as part of their Future Economy Initiative.

Guelph, Ontario was recently profiled in “Community and Energy in Guelph: Environment and Economy in Partnership” in Engineering Dimensions (Jan/Feb 2015), which briefly describes Guelph’s Community Energy Initiative, begun in 2007. More recently, the Guelph District Energy Strategic Plan explains the concept of distributed urban energy systems, and includes case studies from Mannheim, Copenhagen and North Vancouver. The Guelph plan envisions a system which would supply at least 50 per cent of the heating needs of commercial, institutional and industrial facilities as well as residential dwellings.

In Connecticut in December 2014, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection announced a study to evaluate the merits of distributed energy. In response, a working paper by Jeremy Brecher of the Labor Network for Sustainability discusses the monopoly power of electrical utilities and makes seven proposals to reform a system to reduce GHG’s and be worker- and community-friendly. Connecticut’s Electric Utilities: Time to Revise the Model specifically proposes that the ownership of energy distribution be transferred from private utilities to consumer-owned co-operatives, municipal or state-owned companies, or “other alternatives”. And for a more general vision of some of those alternative models, read the EnergyVision document, A Pathway to a Modern, Sustainable, Low Carbon Economic and Environmental Future by the Acadia Center, released February 15.

Business Voices call for Net-zero Emissions Target at COP21, as well as Carbon Pricing and an end to Fossil Fuel Subsidies

The B-Team, a group of international business leaders, released an Open Letter to Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change on Feb. 5, calling on governments to commit to a zero-net-emissions target for 2050 at the COP 21 talks in Paris in 2015. Further, they call for businesses and governments to adopt meaningful and effective carbon pricing; an end to all fossil fuel subsidies, and redirection of that capital to renewable energy solutions; and for businesses and governments “to ensure the benefits of responses to climate change flow to vulnerable and impoverished communities that suffer disproportionately from climate change and are least equipped to cope with its impacts”. In October 2014, the B-Team partnered with other business organizations (The Climate Group, Ceres, Carbon Disclosure Project, BSR, World Business Council for Sustainable Business and the Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group) to form the We Mean Business Coalition.

Ethical Supply Chains: Different View Points

Supply Chain Sustainability Revealed: A Country Comparison, 2014-2015 was commissioned by CDP (a member of the We Mean Business coalition) and authored by Accenture consultants. The report reveals how the suppliers of 66 CDP-member corporations (who spend $1.3 trillion in procurement) are approaching risks and opportunities related to climate change and water. Supply chains in the U.S., China and Italy are considered “vulnerable”. Suppliers in India and Canada are judged as not doing enough to manage climate change risks. Indian companies, in particular, demonstrate a low propensity to report on emissions, and suppliers in Brazil have done the least to manage climate exposures and recent water shortages. A profile of Canadian suppliers is provided on page 14. A more business-oriented report, Beyond Supply Chains: Empowering Responsible Value Chains was jointly authored by the World Economic Forum and Accenture consultants. It highlights 31 supply chain practices which, it is claimed, can increase revenue by up to 20% for responsible products, reduce supply chain costs from 9%-16% and increase brand value by 15%-30%. This commercial success, combined with improved environmental impact and better local economic conditions, is called the “triple supply chain advantage”. The report states that “Adopting the triple advantage can also shrink carbon footprint by up to 22% while enabling companies to contribute to local development”.

Sustainable Energy Updates

The 2015 edition of the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook found that “over the 2007-2014 period, U.S. carbon emissions from the energy sector dropped 9%, U.S. natural gas production rose 25% and total U.S. investment in clean energy (renewables and advanced grid, storage and electrified transport technologies) reached $386 billion”. The report was commissioned by the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and prepared by analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. On February 2, the 2013 Renewable Energy Data Book was released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Key findings include: Renewable electricity, including hydropower and biopower, grew to nearly 15% of total installed capacity and 13% of total electricity generation in the United States in 2013, compared to 23% of all electricity generation worldwide, and 15% in the UK. Solar electricity was the fastest growing electricity generation technology in the U.S., with cumulative installed capacity increasing by nearly 66% from the previous year.

 

Chilly Climate re Climate Change continues in Canada

In the U.S., the White House National Security Strategy document was released on Feb. 6,  stating that climate change is a significant risk to Americans at home and abroad, along with terrorism and a nuclear Iran. Here in Canada, the intelligence community appears to see things differently. A threat assessment document by the critical infrastructure intelligence team of the RCMP, written in January 2015 and leaked to the press in February, seems skeptical of the world’s understanding of climate science and states: “There is a growing, highly organized and well-financed, anti-Canadian petroleum movement that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists, who are opposed to society’s reliance on fossil fuels”. See coverage in  The Toronto Star (Feb. 17); The Globe and Mail (Feb. 17); or The Guardian (Feb. 18). For reaction by Greenpeace, one of the groups high on the RCMP’s radar, see “Caring for the Climate is not a Crime in Canada. Yet”, which puts the RCMP document in the context of Bill C-51, Canada’s Anti-terrorism Act, introduced to the House of Commons on January 30, 2015.

As for the media, consider the facts presented by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (Feb. 12) in “Do you know who’s writing your climate change news”. The article notes the case of Andrew Weaver, described in more detail in “B.C. MLA Andrew Weaver wins defamation suit against National Post”The Globe and Mail (Feb. 6). PICS puts the Weaver case in a wider context by reporting on the dismissal by Postmedia of both Margaret Munro (nominated for a World Press Freedom Award for her stories on the muzzling of federal government scientists) and Mike De Souza (who wrote about the oil sands and exposed examples of bribery, undeclared conflicts of interest and withheld information relating to the federal government’s energy policy). Energy and oil industry news coverage will now be “centralized” at the  National Post, according to “Postmedia cuts National Writer Jobs, Offers Newsroom Buyouts” in the Globe and Mail (Feb. 5).